Covid: Anger over letter that allowed pupil back in school

A BACKBENCH politician has called for a review of Jersey’s Covid track-and-trace regime for people arriving in the Island after a pupil was allowed back to school while awaiting a test result after 14 days in isolation.


The St Michael’s preparatory school child later tested positive, resulting in all classmates having to isolate. A total of 18 families were affected.

Deputy Inna Gardiner, who has been campaigning for tighter measures to safeguard Islanders from those entering via the Airport and port, said that if the guidelines did allow the child to return, they ‘must be changed’ as a matter of ‘common sense’.

News of the positive test result in the private primary school was followed by another confirmed case of a pupil at St Saviour’s School. Other children in that pupil’s so-called ‘bubble’ have also had to isolate.

The case at St Michael’s has caused controversy because the school had initially told the parents in question that their child should not return to school until the child had received the test result. However, the school gave way after being contacted by the government’s contact tracing team, which stated that the child could, under its guidelines, return to school.

It has since emerged that the parent in question was a senior civil servant. A parent, who did not want to be named, has told the JEP that when they rang up to request that their child be allowed back to school in similar circumstances, they were told that this was not possible.

It has been revealed that St Michael’s was obliged to reverse the decision to stop the pupil returning after it was issued with written confirmation from the contact-tracing team.

The school was told that the child had completed 14 days’ isolation that followed the parent having tested positive on returning from an off-Island trip. The pupil was therefore able to return to school on Monday in spite of the outstanding test result.

As well as 18 children who have been compelled to isolate from the date they were sent home from school last Monday for at least nine days – assuming a second test for coronavirus is negative – parents and other siblings have also been affected.

Some families say that they have been forced to separate, with the isolating child remaining with one parent while the remainder of the household broke off contact.

Parents were sent a letter on Thursday by Nicholas Taylor, chairman of governors at St Michael’s.

It said: ‘The headmaster initially refused to allow the child back in accordance with the school (not government) approach. Subsequently, (after the child had been in isolation for 16 days) the government, through their Contact Tracing Department, issued written permission to the parents, stating that the pupil was safe to return to school.

‘Furthermore, Mr Mark Rogers of Children, Young People, Education and Skills Department provided the following statement to the school: “Contact Tracing (CT) supported a return to school because the 14 day isolation period had elapsed (and the child was asymptomatic). This is the official Government of Jersey policy position, hence CT not insisting parents wait for the test result.

‘I remain steadfast in the view that the school and parents of the pupil acted in good faith and in relation to the stated correspondence,’ Mr Taylor wrote. ‘The school’s policies and procedures are based on the government’s guidelines and we reserve the right, in some cases, to go above and beyond these.’

Government guidelines state that a 14-day period of isolation is required for any direct contact of a Covid-19 case and would apply to any government-run school.

Director general for Education Mark Rogers said that as a private school, St Michael’s was free to have an ‘extra layer’ of caution about insisting any outstanding test results were awaited.

Mr Rogers said the incident had been unfortunate and brought about by ‘a mismatch of timings’. Asked whether the affected child should have returned to school while a test was outstanding, he added that ‘hindsight is a wonderful thing’.

A government spokesperson added: ‘There was no attempt to change policy. The policy was not changed. The official guidance was followed and issued by the contact tracing team.’

Although he has made no official public comment, head teacher Mike Rees is understood to be frustrated at government insistence that it was the school’s decision to readmit the child.

Many St Michael’s parents, including the mother who spoke to the JEP, felt that a senior civil servant should set an example in going ‘above and beyond’ the guidelines.

‘This parent forced the school’s hand when the right thing to have done – morally at least – would have been to keep the child off until the result was received,’ she said. ‘One more day off school for one more child would have prevented all this.’

Deputy Gardiner said the guidance should be changed.

‘I don’t blame contact tracing – they are doing their job,’ she said. ‘But if the current guidelines allow this to happen, they must be changed – it’s common sense.’

Another concerned backbencher, Deputy Jess Perchard, said the issue was another example of a situation where the government’s risk-appetite had resulted in a policy that had caused an upset for those with concerns about the severity and risks posed by the virus.

‘On St Michael’s specifically, the headmaster acted in the best interests of his students and staff and he has my full support, and the parent abided by the government’s policy,’ she said.

‘Any anger arising here should be directed at the risk-appetite driving the political decision-making, not the people involved.’

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